Searching for a boy

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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OPTIONAL IWSG MAY QUESTION: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

MY ANSWER: Homemade bombs. A few years back, I wrote a short story, an urban fantasy, about a young witch finding and defusing a bomb at a shopping fair. She had to do it by magical means, of course, but I needed to know what goes inside a bomb to be able to apply her magic. I have to tell you: the internet is a treasure trove of information on the weirdest of subjects, especially wikipedia, although I worried for a time after I did that research that some government agency or another would be interested in me. To my relief, nobody was. The story is part of my collection Squirrel of Magic.
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My research for my stories doesn’t exclusively involve combing the internet for information. Often, it is a hunt for a cover image, and occasionally, it leads to unexpected results. Lately, I have been thinking about a short fantasy story, set in my favorite quasi-medieval world, with a teenage boy protagonist.

I don’t have many of those: most of my protagonists are young women. The story is almost ready in my head, I just have to write it down. As usual at this point, I wanted to find an image of my protagonist and I started looking where I always look for my medieval characters: classical art of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

That’s a very wide field of search, and I’ve always been able to select my heroines there. You could find hundreds of girls or young women of any class and skin color – from a red-headed country maid, to a blonde aristocratic lady, to a sensuous gypsy dancer, to a mythological amazon – among classical paintings floating on cyber waves. But this time, I encountered a blank wall. To my surprise, there are almost no adolescent boys in those paintings.

There are boy children and then, there are men. But it seems the artists of old had an aversion to painting teenage boys. Of course, there are portraits of princes and dukes of any age, but even counting them, there is maybe one depiction of a fifteen year old boy per a hundred adult males. And the girls heavily outnumber them both.

The only exception is David, the one who won against Goliath. Almost every classical painter painted David at least once, and all of them painted him as a teenage boy, often half-naked, with Goliath’s severed head in a triumphant grip. Some of those boys are actually very nice paintings, and I could, maybe, use one or two for my hero, but what would I do with the huge dead head? It is not in my story.

I tried playing with the images, making the head appear as a sack or a rock, depending on its location. Once, I put a column from another painting in front of David to hide Goliath’s head. The results were not too bad, but not exactly what I wanted.

When Davids didn’t work for me, I started looking elsewhere, specifically at free fantasy wallpapers. I wanted to find a young archer dressed in a ‘sort-of’ medieval garb. I did what everyone does in such situations: I Googled “boy archer fantasy wallpaper.” I thought I would have hundreds of hits, but… surprise! The majority of fantasy archer images used for wallpapers – could you believe it? – are girls, too. Hordes of them, with bows and swords, mostly dressed in bikinis.

I’m not touching the overabundance of bikini-clad female warriors in this post, but where are the boys?
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UNRELATED NEWS: yesterday, May 2, was the official release day of the IWSG short story anthology Hero Lost. I’m one of the authors fortunate to be included in the anthology. We all do our best to promote the book, and one of my contributions is a guest post I wrote yesterday for Stephanie Faris’s blog. You can read my post, Open-ended stories, here.

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24 Responses to Searching for a boy

  1. Erika Beebe says:

    Hi Olga. I love the breadth of your story topics. I am really entrigued by this witch story. Yes, there
    Is a plethora on women I suppose. Your
    Guest post was lovely yesterday. My latest
    Weird research topic is dismantling a tracking ankle bracelet. Happy Wednesday 🙂

  2. emaginette says:

    I agree. It is quite easy to spend days on the internet looking things up and verifying information. I tend to ride the wave and it takes me off coarse more often then not. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  3. patgarcia says:

    I agree. The internet is a treasure trove of information. Congratulations on being chosen for the Hero Lost Anthology. I’ve purchased my copy and will definitely read your story.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

  4. J.S. Pailly says:

    It’s weird how certain things don’t seem to make it to the Internet, despite everything else that the Internet does have. A lot of the things I research (mostly sciency stuff) are behind paywalls, or you can only access them if you’re a student or teacher at a participating university. Sometimes my best option is to just head to the library, browse the academic journals, and hope I get lucky.

  5. Juneta says:

    I do love google. The two 6th years old twins when they ask and you don’t know the answer and tell them that, the say, “ask your phone.” It is funny.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  6. Have you tried Bernini’s work? I’m with you in relying on Google images for inspiration. Best of luck with your search.

  7. That’s interesting and kind of a sad commentary about the paintings. Have you tried Robin Hood, or are all of the paintings of hiim as a bearded adult?
    Maybe Daniel from the Daniel and the Lion’s Den story – probably too many lions or he’s an adult. Hmm.
    Best wishes on finding the right portrait!

  8. Chrys Fey says:

    Homemade bombs? Yikes. Good thing the FBI wasn’t paying attention to your internet searches. lol But, being a thriller writer, I do think that would be fascinating research.

    Congrats on the anthology!!!

  9. I have a feeling a lot of writers on some kind of watch list.

    Well done on the anthology!

  10. Nicki Elson says:

    Where are the boys, indeed. I find that so surprising.
    Hehe, I agree with Madeline on the watch list.

    Congrats on the anthology release! I look forward to reading the treasure between those covers.

  11. If researching blombs doesn’t get you marked, researching murder, won’t get me marked either, unless someone I know dies suddenly and mysteriously, then I’ll be the first suspect. Probably the only suspect. LOL
    So interesting the lack of young boys in art history except for David. Hmm . . .
    You’ll have to create your own and fill the net with them! 🙂

  12. mlouisebarbourfundyblue says:

    Haha! I’m sure lots of writers wonder if some government agency is watching them based on some research they have done. Me included. The internet has certainly made research easier. I can’t believe how much knowledge is at our fingertips today. Good luck with your latest story idea!

  13. Donna L Hole says:

    I remember reading that story 🙂 You did a good job writing the process without letting all that research show. Eventually all writers go weird places for research. Fun, huh!

  14. Denise Covey says:

    Olga, it’s so cool you’re in this anthology. Can’t wait to read it all. And I think research is one of the most fun parts of writing. Trouble is, letting go, and not using too much in the story.

  15. Congratulations to you and to all the authors in the anthology! It is amazing how much we can find on the internet. I think the FBI has a special tag for writers. 🙂

  16. Loni Townsend says:

    I’ve been there with the bombs too. 🙂

    You know, I don’t think I’ve looked up teenaged boys as far as images go. I’ve looked up 9 year olds, but it seems most of my characters jump from age 9 to adult the next time you see them. But I have a tendency to look for actors rather than paintings. I did look up archers though, as I like to draw my characters. Most I’ve seen are adults, female, or barely more than a form sketch. I’d like to see what you end up finding for your character.

  17. spunkonastick says:

    I never thought about there only being girls and very few boys.

    Congrats on release week and proud to have your story in Hero Lost.

  18. I imagine that search brought up stuff you can’t mention here.
    Congratulations to you and the other eleven authors!

  19. Blame Katniss for all the images of female archers.

  20. Homemade bombs? Crikey! There must be loads of other ‘unmentionable’ stuff you’ve discovered during your research…
    Congrats on being one the anthology contributors. 🙂

  21. Liesbet says:

    Congratulations on having a story in the anthology! I never even gave researching images a thought before. So much time must be invested in that part as well as story research. I think I will stick to memoir for now and use one of my photos for the cover! 🙂
    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

  22. cleemckenzie says:

    I see a niche market for boy archer fantasy wallpaper designers. Bring on the boys. I’m going to that search just because.

  23. Arlee Bird says:

    I’ve heard that terrorists get bomb building info off the internet. Not sure how to find illustrations of archers, but I guess it’s all there if you look hard enough.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  24. It’s fascinating and messed up that you couldn’t find teen boys in that style. I’m looking around for images for a short story, and have several coming in from a relative who travels and photographs old west locations. Hopefully, he has something I can use (because it will be freeeee!) I researched biological weapons for a time. Terrifyingly, I was able to find how to make anthrax in a book at the time (this was before internet searches were really a thing, so I had a ton of books from the library on everything war, biological, etc.) I’ve also researched how to pick a lock so I could have that in a story, and again, the information was everywhere. It’s good to have information at our fingertips, but yeesh, it’s scary just what information can be found with little effort.

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